With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we’ve all become much more attuned to some parts of Ukrainian culture — and companies are starting to take notice. After a 2019 Ukrainian campaign failed to convince most companies to use Kyiv instead of Kiev, now companies are finally starting to take note — and one particular chicken dish will likely be spelled differently soon.
When Ukraine was under Soviet domination, the Russians called the city Kiev — this was the Russian way of spelling it (derived from the Russian language name Киев). Media outlets and companies continued using the Kiev name for years to come, even though the transliteration Kyiv (derived from the Ukrainian language name Київ) was legally mandated by the Ukrainian government in 1995.
In 2019, the Ukrainian government launched a campaign called KyivNotKiev. It’s an important step, they argued, to shed the Soviet legacy and the aggressive Russification policies imposed by the Soviets. The campaign partly worked. Major media outlets like the BBC or Associated Press started using Kyiv, as did Wikipedia — but most companies and retailers didn’t.
“Editors from some of the world’s biggest media outlets appear to have decided this was the right moment to update their style guides,” wrote Peter Dickinson from the Atlantic Council, an American think tank in the field of international affairs, in 2019. “A number of global heavyweights have recently adopted the Ukrainian-language derived “Kyiv” as their official spelling for the country’s capital city, replacing the Russian-rooted Kiev.”
Now, companies have started to take notice as well, and they’ve started with something most people will be familiar with: chicken.
Chicken Kyiv is a dish consisting of chicken fillet pounded and rolled around cold butter and coated with egg and bread crumbs. It’s not clear when and how the dish originated, but by the 18th century, Russian chefs were trying to use French haute cuisine techniques — and French chefs hired by Russian aristocracy also contributed to the dish.
It’s one of the few products that contains the name of the city and has international recognition. Many consumers started realizing the difference between how the media is spelling Kyiv and how retailers are still using Kiev — and they’ve been pushing for a change.
Sainsbury’s, one of the big retailers in the UK, became the first major company to announce it will start selling Chicken Kyiv. Other retailers in the UK, including Tesco and Aldi are expected to soon follow suit.
But this move may be more a move to appease consumers rather than to make cultural amends. Businesses see this as a PR opportunity or a way to dodge social media ire — it’s a way to avoid any association with Russia and make it seem like you’re actually making a difference. In fact, you could probably make an argument about whether the recipe should be renamed at all — because it’s essentially a Russian recipe made with French cooking techniques. You could argue that, even if you call the city Kyiv, you can call the recipe Chicken Kiev. The Associated Press said as much in a recent tweet:
Ultimately, it’s hard to say what the right move would be. It’s good that companies are trying to show support for Ukraine, though this is probably a way to avoid media backlash or piggyback on a popular movement rather than a move that can make an actual difference. In truth, Sainsbury’s claims they’ll also remove Russian vodka and sunflower seeds from their shelves — but those are hardly a staple for the supermarket.
The city is most definitely spelled Kyiv in English; the chicken is less clear — but at the end of the day, also far less important. Hopefully, more impactful support will follow.
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